Wed | May 23, 2018

Jaevion Nelson | Push harder for gay rights

Published:Saturday | April 21, 2018 | 12:00 AM
Prime Minister Andrew Holness says Jamaica is evolving on its views on homosexuality.

Prime Minister Andrew Holness' recent positive statements about lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) persons in Brussels and London will help greatly to disrupt the tyranny of hypocrisy around human rights that has been plaguing our country for far too long.

Quite often, our politicians pander to popular negative sentiments about LGBT people rather than use their offices to truly be transformational leaders and contribute, in a more systematic way, to making every citizen feel that they belong and assuring that they are protected, regardless of their differences.

While I am cognisant of the realities of politics and that the matter of rights for LGBT Jamaicans is a particularly sensitive issue for many of us, I must express how regrettable and hugely disappointing it is that this has been the modus operandi over the years.

Notwithstanding, it is most uncanny that this has been the case given that there are so many political leaders who, I believe, actually believe that more should be done to protect and promote the rights of LGBT Jamaicans. They also believe that the Parliament has a critical role in this regard, but not many have actually been willing to say so publicly, despite the impact of their negligence.

Most glaringly, it is the deafening silence of our leaders that has done the most harm to the LGBT community. Silence while LGBT people are persecuted and treated as second-class citizens by the State and the populace speaks to the complicity of our leaders, and gives tacit approval for such attitudes and behaviours.

Since 2011, more than 300 reports of violations have been reported to J-FLAG by LGBT people related to the right to property, housing, health, work, education, privacy, equality before the law and equal protection of the law, freedom of the person, right to life, liberty and security of the person, and freedom from discrimination.

 

Opportune statement

 

The statements by Holness that an individual's sexual orientation would not be used to deny persons the opportunity to serve in his Cabinet and that, as our leader, his duty to ensure the protection of all citizens could not have come at a better time. More politicians need to use their influence to promote peace and respect for individuals, without distinction, in their constituency. We can no longer afford to celebrate political leaders who shy away from their responsibilities.

I will not chorus with others who complain that this is mere rhetoric, because it has utility. It is our duty as citizens to hold our leaders accountable and push them to take action.

The Government has a duty to more systematically participate in engendering social change by doing its part to protect and promote respect for human rights in its broadest sense.

 

Responsibility

 

We must, therefore, impress upon our leaders that they have a responsibility to do what they can in their sphere of influence to help make the country a more hospitable place for all citizens and visitors, including those who are LGBT.

While discrimination and violence against LGBT people is still rampant, it appears a revolution is unfolding in Jamaica. I am overcome with joy and hope about Holness' statements as I was when Portia Simpson Miller said LGBT people should not be discriminated against during the 2011 election debates.

I am hopeful that the prime minister will use his agency and popularity to chart a new course for Jamaica on this contentious issue. I am eager to learn in the coming weeks what actions will be taken to ensure that more programmes and policies include ways in which to address the challenges faced by the LGBT community.

- Jaevion Nelson is a human-rights and economic and social-justice advocate. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and jaevion@gmail.com.